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The Little Things and Running the Bases

No, no, no. It's more of a forward thing than a straight-up thing. It's ... never mind. Forget it. Just keep hopping. We'll pick up where we left off tomorrow.
No, no, no. It's more of a forward thing than a straight-up thing. It's ... never mind. Forget it. Just keep hopping. We'll pick up where we left off tomorrow.

When I read a headline like "S.F. Giants camp, Day 10: Running like crazy" , and it's all about the Giants' newfound focus on running the bases, my initial urge is to dismiss it. To mock it. To pretend that I'm strong enough to ignore it before breaking down and getting irate. Because a commitment to baserunning really, really sounds like "the little things." And when the Giants can't hit -- on a geological scale, it hasn't been that long -- there's an urge to lean on the idea of the little things.

The little things aren't visible, but they're out there. They're the volcano gods of baseball: Everything that's bad in the world is probably happening because you didn't make enough sacrifices. So you make more sacrifices. But they might not be enough. And even though you can't prove that the little things are the problem, you can't prove that an absence of them isn't the problem.

Usually the problem is a bunch of crappy hitters.

But belief in the little things can overcome that! The Platonic ideal of a hit-and-run can make up for crappy hitting if you believe enough and execute!

We've been force-fed some variation of this for the past five springs. The hitting isn't expected to be stellar, so there's some mention of the dedication to the little things. Baserunning is always one of those little things. Apparently, the Giants are focusing on it this spring. Again. Makes me want to punch Ned Ryerson in the face.

I've written over a million words on this site, most of them about Giants baseball. About 900,000 of them had to do with Brandon Crawford yesterday. I've written about the Giants when they didn't have any pitching. I've written about the Giants when they had plenty of pitching. I wrote about the 12,394 times they played the Padres in 2005, and I wrote about the 59,351 times they've played them since. This is a site about Giants baseball, and it covers the entire spectrum, from the meaningless to the mostly meaningless.

At no point, though, do I think that I've given anything more than a passing mention to how the Giants run the bases.

Eugenio Velez runs the bases as if he were a newborn calf put in a paper bag filled with airplane glue, shaken for a few minutes, and rolled down the Filbert Steps.

That is about baserunning, yes, and I'm sure I wrote something like that at some point. But I probably moved on quickly. It was more of a way to paint a multi-hued tribute to the splendor of Eugenio Velez than a serious critique of his flaws.

Sad to hear about Bil Keane dying. We mourn the last man on Earth with the talent and acumen to illustrate Fred Lewis' biography.

Again, if I had written that at the time, it would have had more to do with the overall raison d'être of Fred Lewis, not his specific, quantifiable contributions to the team when it comes to his baserunning.

Ruben Rivera exists.

Okay, that one might have made baserunning a topic of note at some point in the past. But usually you know bad baserunning when you see it, and other than a few select cases, you rarely mention how a player runs the bases. When I think of Chase Utley, I evaluate him on 30 different levels -- going so far as to quantify his sideburns using the new sabermetrically savvy fashion metric I developed, 90210+ -- before I remember that he's a superlative baserunner.

This is all me being short-sighted, though. MGL puts the difference between the best and worst players as something that can make a substantial difference over a full season:

It also means that the very best or worst (base runners) are worth a little over half a win or so, which is not insignificant. In fact, you could add or dock from a few players’ salaries 2 or 3 million (in FA dollars) a year just for good or bad base running!

That's just the difference between a good and bad individual runner -- the Chone-to-Bengie spectrum. On a team level, improving baserunning could have a substantial impact. Maybe a win. Maybe two. Not sure what's realistic when it comes to improving through spring drills, but in theory, when you're clawing for every scrap in a tight division like the Giants are expected to, an extra win might mean millions and millions of dollars in playoff revenue, and that extra revenue can pay John Lannan's salary when he replaces Matt Cain.

So it's probably time to step back and remember that baserunning is important. It can make or break a team's playoff chances. They should be working on it. It's not like extra time in the cage is going to turn everyone into Will Clark. It's probably not likely that extra baserunning drills are going to make a huge difference either, but it's not ludicrous to focus on running the bases the right way. Stand down.

I apologize if I had the initial tendency to overreact. I'm just sensitive to the little things. That is most certainly not what she said. Good night, and good luck.